Thursday, February 5, 2015

What 50 Shades Gets Wrong

So what’s wrong with 50 Shades? 

First of all, the primary relationship is neither a healthy romantic relationship nor an accurate picture of what a D/s relationship looks like

I tend to cut the book a big break here. 50 Shades was originally Twilight fan fiction. The relationship between Edward and Bella in Twilight is textbook controlling emotional abuse. A boyfriend that stands outside your window and watches you sleep every night, drives the car faster when you ask him to slow down and follows you around when you ask him not to – that’s controlling, abusive behavior and a huge warning sign for physical violence. The relationship between Anastasia and Christian is also coercive and emotionally abusive. He’s coming from a place of significant power and uses that power to boss Ana around and control her life down to her underwear. Her consent to that set up is, at best, fuzzy. But it’s far less abusive than Twilight. Ana has far more agency. So is it a healthy relationship? No. Absolutely not. But it’s a bit healthier than the model it was based on.

Take home message: if you meet someone and they present you with a 24/7 D/s contract after the second date – RUN. Developing a healthy D/s relationship takes time and negotiation. It should start with the submissive being clear about what they want and need from the agreement.

The depiction of BDSM play, BDSM implements (like crops) and sex toys is inaccurate. Many of us in the land of Sex Education were/are concerned about this. We were worried that the folks reading the book would go home, try what was in the book and be deeply disappointed or worse, get hurt. I think most of this fear is actually concern trolling. The vast majority of the women I talked to who read the book were very clear it was fantasy

The fantasy element is clear from the very beginning. Ana is an English major who doesn’t own a computer. I tried to rationalize this by thinking the book was set in the 90s. Nope. Set in the present. What fulltime college senior English major with a job doesn’t have a computer or at least a tablet?
Next, she has never masturbated. While a college senior who has never masturbated is in a minority, it’s certainly plausible. But it makes what comes next really unplausible. She has about five earth shattering orgasms the first time she has sex. And she’s a pro at deep throating her first time too. Could that happen? Sure. I also could get struck by lightening next week. The very cornerstones of the book are fantasy. Most readers get that. Almost every time I’ve said to a customer, “You know, the woman who wrote the book didn’t have a really good understanding of BDSM or sex toys.”, most customers say, “You know, I thought so”. And then we move on and talk about what it is they’re interested in.

Take home message: if there is a sex toy or sex act in the book that sounds really hot to you, ask someone before you try it. Go to your local sex positive sex toy store. Or check out (a great online resource for sex ed videos).

Christian’s “unique” tastes are explained by his tortured childhood. If Ana can just love him enough, he’ll be cured from this.

There is no link what so ever between childhood abuse and BDSM. Studies done on members of the BDSM community have found that folks who practice BDSM are just as emotionally healthy as anybody else.

Take home message: being interested in BDSM does not mean you are a broken person. It means that the thought of erotic power exchange turns you (and millions of other people) on.

Lastly, BDSM (bondage, domination, submission, masochism or bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism) is something that is practiced in many different ways by many different people. At it’s core is a deep respect for negotiation and consent. Good BDSM play only happens after the people involved have discussed how it’s going to go. It requires trust. It requires checking in before, during and after. When it’s done right, it can feel like flying. It’s a deeply erotic exchange of power that is rooted in everyone walking in from an equal place.

Take home message: for BDSM play to be good, it requires negotiation between equals

50 Shades of Grey is a series of romance novels rooted in a world of fantasy. They’ve turned millions of people on. Which is great. They also aren’t a good road map to any kind of BDSM play. Lucky for us, there are plenty of road maps out there. 

Tune it to our next blog for a start on your map.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Why I love 50 Shades of Grey

The 50 Shades movie is coming out next week. Which if you work in the land of sex toys is what we call A BIG DEAL.

In rest of the world, is it a big deal? It looks like it. Folks are excited about seeing the movie. So excited in fact, that ticket pre-sales are record breaking (funny that Hollywood often says women can't drive ticket sales - this year's proving them wrong over and over).

There are plenty of valid things to criticize about the book (see our next blog). However, when us sex positive folks get our undies in a bunch about those issues, I think we miss the point.

50 Shades of Grey sold more than 100 million copies. Right up there with Harry Potter and Twilight. That’s 100 million, mostly women, buying, reading and talking about a book because it turns them on. Talking about it publically. Reading it on the subway and at the break table without shame. It caused folks to talk about female pleasure on morning TV. It reminded millions of women that sex is fun. And it turned up the heat in millions of bedrooms across the globe. 50 Shades of Grey brought people joy. And I’m grateful.

It also got people reading. I spoke with several women who told me that they hadn’t read a book since high school, but they read all three 50 Shades books and then proceeded to read other erotic fiction novels. Anything that gets people reading is good by me.

Part of what I think brought non-readers into 50 Shades is it’s accessible reading level. When I worked in public health I was taught that any reading material we published should be at a 6th grade reading level or below. Why? Because we wanted the information to be accessible to everyone. And there are many people who are most comfortable reading around that level.

Much of our erotica is written at a 12th grade or higher reading level. Which is great for people like me who’ve been reading incessantly since they were four years old, have a college degree and get excited when they find unfamiliar words. But for the vast majority of people, complex sentences and big words are a turn off. Or worse, a cue that this thing doesn’t welcome them. Erotica is fun. In some cases erotica can even be life changing. People of all reading levels deserve to have access to it. 50 Shades met a need. A need I hope erotica writers continues to meet.

Because of this book, there was a nation wide shortage of kegel balls. If those folks use them, they're having better orgasms and healthier PC muscles. People came into our store glowing and excited and saying, “my spouse and I haven’t had sex like this in years”. Men who hadn’t read much of the book walked in the door with lists and sparkles in their eyes. 50 Shades ignited passion in places where passion was on a break. That is a very, very powerful gift.

So, thank you Ms James. I think you’ve made this world a better place. I’m looking forward to seeing the movie. May it spark as much steamy joy.

Next - what's wrong with 50 Shades.